Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 12:51 UK

Data loss prompts security move

By Niall Blaney
BBC News

Laptops are particularly vulnerable to theft

Thousands of "ultra-secure" computers costing 6m are to be bought by the NI executive following a series of embarrassing losses of personal data.

About 4,000 high-security laptops and 10,000 new desktop computers are being bought.

The BBC has also learned the Civil Service is to launch a secure system which may do away with sending people's details through the post.

Discs containing the details of 6,000 NI drivers went missing in December.

The data was on two discs sent by courier to the Driver and Vehicle Agency headquarters in Swansea.

In January, the names of more than 14,200 people resident in Northern Ireland were contained on a Ministry of Defence laptop stolen in England.

Special security encryption will be installed on the new laptops, which will begin being rolled out in the next 6-8 weeks.

The laptops cost 1.9m and the desktops 4.35m. The Department of Finance said the purchase method saved 2m on the desktops and 900,000 on the laptops.

'Not being complacent'

The head of information at the Civil Service, Bill McCluggage, said he was confident the personal details of people in Northern Ireland would be secure.

About 10,000 desktop computers are also being bought for government departments over the next two years.

Using discs and sending them through the post can still be done, but this can be a bit of a pain because they have to be encrypted
Bill McCluggage
Director of Delivery and Innovation Division

Mr McCluggage, director of Delivery and Innovation Division at the Department of Finance and Personnel, said his team was reacting as fast as it could to any potential security breaches.

"We are not being complacent - the genie is out of the bottle and we have to be seen to be doing something," he told BBC News.

"What we want to do is rebuild citizens' confidence in us to be the custodian of their data."

In Northern Ireland, a secure intranet service is used to send data between government departments, but this does not apply for information sent to non-governmental agencies.

However, a new system which will eliminate the need to send personal data to these organisations through the post is to be introduced on 6 May.

"Using discs and sending them through the post can still be done, but this can be a bit of a pain because they have to be encrypted," said Mr McCluggage.

"The new system will be a completely secure internet base for the transfer of data to Northern Ireland's non-government departmental agencies."

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